Gators need to find "the guy" at receiver


Published: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 6:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 4:41 p.m.

The drama has passed and the Gator Nation is sleeping better tonight. Jeff Driskel will be OK once he lets his shoulder rest for a week, and when healthy, we all know he can do everything except balance the budget.

Actually, the concern this week when the news broke and entered the evil world of Twitterdom was not that Florida was losing its starting quarterback, but that it might be. We know little except what we are told of the battle between Driskel and Jacoby Brissett, and Gator fans probably all have their preferences.

But the most important thing is that both are ready.

Because this isn't like it was in 2000 when Rex Grossman and Brock Berlin were battling for the starting job. The quarterback didn't manage the team then. He dictated it. Florida was a different team with a different offense. The winner of the job would have a good chance to be All-SEC (and, in fact, Grossman was).

Still, the quarterback position at Florida is high glamour. Even the ones who have struggled are remembered.

But for me, the big story at Florida's camp isn't who will be quarterback.

It's whether or not anyone will be a big-time receiver.

Florida — the school which produced Carlos Alvarez, Wes Chandler, Cris Collinsworth, Jabar Gaffney, Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony, Percy Harvin and Chris Doering — hasn't had an All-SEC receiver since 2008.

And there is no reason to expect that will change this year.

Last year was understandable. You had a perfect storm that washed over the passing game and rendered it inept.

1. John Brantley went down in the fifth game and was never the same after he returned.

2. Florida's offensive line couldn't protect the quarterback and allow for a downfield passing game.

3. Florida's receivers just weren't very good.

We expect the line to be better, and the quarterback is still an unknown commodity. But can a quarterback at any school be good if he has receivers who don't get it done?

There has been a combination of recruiting misses (five-star flops Ja'Juan Story and Chris Dunkley) and two seasons of an offense searching for its identity that have caused this dearth of big plays by wide receivers.

Two years ago, Urban Meyer was scratching the phantom limb and tried to run the Tim Tebow offense with Brantley at quarterback. Last year, Will Muschamp tried to have a power running game without any powerful backs and with a woeful offensive line.

As a result, the receivers kind of got left out in both seasons. But at the same time, none of them stepped up and made someone take notice.

Sure, Andre Debose would get behind the defense once in awhile. But if you take away the receptions in the three “revenue” games last year (Florida Atlantic, Alabama-Birmingham and Furman), Florida's returning wide receivers had a total of 19 catches in 2011.

That's not good.

“It has been frustrating,” Muschamp said. “Really frustrating.”

You're preaching to an orange and blue choir there, brother.

Gator fans are used to big plays by big players. They are used to wide receivers coming out of nowhere like Gaffney did in 2000 or David Nelson did in '08. The older boosters can close their eyes and see Chandler against Auburn and Jack Jackson against South Carolina.

Muschamp thinks he has the receivers to give Florida what it needs.

“Frankie Hammond, he's been the most consistent guy,” he said. “Debose is the most explosive and his inconsistency is not as big a factor as it has been. Quinton Dunbar is getting more mature. Latroy Pittman has to keep coming.”

There probably isn't “the guy” on this team. You know who “the guy” is. He's the guy you know you can look for on third-and-4. He's the guy who will take a hitch pass and turn it into a play that brings you to your feet. He's the guy who will make the leaping catch in the end zone.

If “the guy” isn't there, it will likely be another season of receiver-by-committee. Florida will look to tight ends, to Trey Burton, to the tailbacks. They will try to figure out what to do with Omarius Hines.

Which goes back to my original point — whoever wins the quarterback battle will need some help, help that hasn't been there for the last couple of years.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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